First thing’s first. Anyone who tells you tattoos don’t hurt either has an extremely high testicular fortitude or more pride than Mufasa.
So I have a few Tattoos. Some are good some are bad and some i did myself. But the work I had done in Thailand is by far my favourite. Getting a Tattoo in Thailand is an exciting prospect and something that a lot of people look forward to on their trips. For me it was an essential part of the trip to experience real Bamboo Tattoo work.
What is a Bamboo Tattoo?
Very fine needles are firmly attached to the end of a thin bamboo/steel rod using cotton. Usually 5 needles are used in this process but this can vary according to tattoo type and size. The needles are put in a line instead of a round bullet so that a very fine line can be achieved. This is then gently tapped into the skin.
With bamboo tattooing, the skin is punctured but not torn, which results in a significant reduction in pain ( for some people! ) and bleeding. Consequently there is no scabbing as with most machine tattoos, resulting in a very quick healing process – usually around four days. The tattoo therefore doesn’t crack or go patchy meaning there is no need for touch ups. Furthermore as there is no blood to push the colour out of the skin, the ink settles quite deeply and no colour is lost. Bamboo tattoos tend to maintain their colour extremely well, staying bright and strong. There is absolutely no problem going into the sun following the bamboo method of tattooing. Another major benefit with bamboo tattooing is that it is 90% LESS painful than machine tattooing.
There are some amazing and ancient designs available called Yak Sants.
Here is a video of some bamboo work that I filmed.
Yantra tattooing, also called sak yant or sak yan (Thai: สักยันต์ sạk yạnť, Khmer: សាក់យ័ន្ត, Burmese: တက်တူးထိုး), is a form of tattooing that originated from ancient Southeast Asia. It consists of sacred geometrical, animal and deity designs accompanied by Pali phrases that offer power, protection, fortune, charisma and other benefits for the bearer. Today it is practiced in Thailand and Myanmar, and to a much lesser extent in Laos and Cambodia. The practice has also begun to grow in popularity among Chinese Buddhists in Singapore. Sak means tattoo in Thai, and yant is the Thai pronunciation for the Sanskrit word yantra, a type of mystical diagram used in Dharmic religions.
Sak yant designs are normally tattooed by ruesi (the Thai form of rishi), wicha (magic) practitioners, and Buddhist monks, traditionally with a long metal rod sharpened to a point (called a khem sak).
Picking your artist…
For me, finding the right artist is important. I visited five tattoo shops before i found mine. I wanted someone who i connected with on a social level, had an interest in my design artistic ability, a hygienic shop, a butt load of experience and was kind and well priced. So not asking for much really… 😛
I visited the most popular stores first but found them to think of me as just another customer. I like a more personal experience so decided to go off the beaten path and find an artist with a bit more time. I woke to a couple of more spiritual artists until i found Jane who became my tattoo artist.
Jane’s English wasn’t great but we looked at my ideas together until we decided on something. I could clearly see from his shop which was full of paintings, crafts, and photo’s of previous work that he was an artist and after giving him a rough set of instructions let him do his own thing.
I have worked some tough jobs, completed basic training in the British military, broken several bones including the same arm 8 times and had an appendix that inflamed to the degree that i passed out. So I know when something hurts. Tattoos hurt…
Slightly nervous, I lay on his clean and hygienic bench, he stuck some Muay Thai as he knew i was into boxing. The pain – at first was not so bad, but for me being extremely ticklish and have very sensitive skin to the touch soon became excruciating.
I got through the first half of the design in 2 hours without stopping but at that point was squirming in the chair so we broke for lunch. i went straight to the pharmacy and bought some valium and some co-codamol. Im not suggesting you do the same but it did help me as i’m slightly intolerant to needles!
I popped the recommended amount and ate. feeling pretty dopey i got back in the chair. The pain was still there but at least i wasn’t jolting my muscles anymore. To be honest my girlfriend dealt better with the pain than i did. I think I’m just very sensitive as i have struggled with all my tattoos and am the most ticklish person i know.
After 6.5 hours of forcing myself not to jump out of the chair i was done.
Things I made sure to ask about before hand include…
- Sterilisation and hygiene – Ask to see process. make sure your artist is clean you don’t want someone else’s juice in ya!
- Experience – my artist was 48 years old and his studio was his portfolio. I even saw him working on someone else before i agreed to go with him
- Price – i paid 10,000 Bahht for a tattoo that took almost 7 hours. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me! My girlfriend’s cost only 2500 bahht for the 5 line sak want tattoo.
- Bamboo Work- bamboo tattoos are not as neat as machine work but they have unique character and are iconic. They look great. like they’ve been carved into stone.
All in all this was an amazing experience. We were both really happy with the results and laughed and talked with Jane for a long time. I especially enjoyed playing drums with his daughter. His wife makes a good cup of coffee and the whole vibe is happy and inclusive.
Jane’ tattoo shop Facebook page